Furious 7's grip loosened on the Chinese box office this weekend, dropping 61% from last week to gross $35.14 million, but it still held on to the top spot for the third consecutive weekend, edging out newcomer The Left Ear's (左耳) respectable $31.19 million. Furious grabbed 42% of the market this weekend, down from 82% last weekend. Sometime on Sunday, Furious became the first movie ever in China to cross the 2 Billion RMB mark and in doing so surpassed Transformers: Age of Extinction as the highest grossing film in Chinese box office history. After just 15 days of release, the seventh installment of the Fast & Furious series (an eighth was just announced for April '17, to the delight of Chinese fans) has earned $323.33 million surpassing the estimated 24 day North American total of $320.5 million. While several films have grossed more in China than they did stateside (The Expendables 3 - $72.66 million vs $39.32, Need For Speed $66.19 million vs $43.57 million, this is only the second time it has happened with a bonafide successful blockbuster in both markets. (Transformers 4 was the first).
Targeted squarely at the Post-80s/Post-90s crowd, The Left Ear earned a decent $31.19 million to take second place in its first weekend of release. The youthful pic outgunned rival Ever Since We Love (万物生长) which dropped 74% to fourth place with $2.88 million. After ten days, the film has grossed $21.84 million.
In third place, Dreamworks Animation's Home opened to $7.96 million. The film played on about 15% of China's screens this weekend and was able to attract family audiences as the only kid friendly wide release. Home is 23% ahead of The Croods which ended up with $63.5 million in 2013, but that total seems unlikely for Home with a crowded market the next few weekends. Rounding out the top five was Arnold Schwarzenegger's Sabotage which opened with $2.47 million. Arnie will look to make a dent at the box office next with Terminator Genisys opening in China on July 1.
The rest of China's top ten can be found below with data from EntGroup Consulting.
Village Roadshow Inks Five-Picture Deal With China's Beijing Hairun Pictures (Deadline)
"Village Roadshow Asia has signed a five-picture deal with China's Beijing Hairun Pictures that will include a feature film on former NBA player Stephon Marbury's experiences playing in the Middle Kingdom. The deal, described as a 'a long-term partnership in the joint development, financing, production and distribution of feature films,' was announced today by Village Roadshow Pictures Asia CEO Ellen Eliasoph and Liu Yanming, chairman of Hairun Media & Entertainment Group at the Beijing International Film Festival."
Heyi Pictures Signs Partnership Deals for Original Movies (Hollywood Reporter)
"Heyi Pictures, the film unit of Chinese online TV giant Youku Tudou, has signed a raft of deals with local media companies to develop original movies for its platform. The deals, including ones with major Chinese magazine and online publishers, could deliver nine projects by 2016, according to Heyi Pictures CEO Allen Zhu."
Alibaba Pictures Group Ltd Buys Movie-Ticketing Firm (ValueWalk)
"Alibaba Pictures, a subsidiary of Chinese online retail behemoth Alibaba, has announced the acquisition of movie ticketing software firm Yueke for 830 million yuan ($134 million). Yueke works with more than 1,000 theaters across China. It offers multiple services such as ticket management software for staffed booths and automatic vending machines, enterprise software that helps theaters run operations, white label mobile apps, and digital signage. It has partnerships with Alipay, WeChat, Tmall, Weibo, Douban, and group-buying site Meituan."
Sale of Cirque du Soleil Aims to Open Doors in China (NYTimes Dealbook)
"On Monday, a consortium of private equity investors led by TPG agreed to buy Cirque du Soleil for 1.5 billion Canadian dollars, a purchase that will pave the way for the company to expand into China. One of the buyers, Fosun of China, is heavily invested in entertainment and travel businesses, including the recent purchase of Club Med. The plan is to open a Cirque office in China...TPG and Fosun were most likely attracted by both Cirque's high brand recognition in the West as well as the prospect of a China expansion. 'You have a growing middle class and that middle class starts to have the beginnings of disposable income, how do you capture that?' One approach is to bring in recognized brands and have them do what they do without having to learn it.'
Dalian Wanda to open nearly 900 malls by 2025, focus on lower-tier cities (Reuters)
"Wang Jianlin, chairman of Wanda Group and China's richest man, according to Forbes, said the group will open at least 50 "Wanda Plazas" each year from 2016, and have 400-500 shopping malls by 2020 and 1,000 by 2025, focusing on third and fourth-tier cities. The group had 109 such plazas at the end of last year."
Beijing: 'The Gate' wins MPA Grand Prize (ScreenDaily)
"Sci-fi love story The Gate, a film about a tour guide who finds himself in a virtual gaming world, has won the MPA Grand Prize in Beijing. The film's writer/director, Xin Cheng Jiang, is known as an influential commercial TV director. The award was presented at the Motion Picture Association (MPA) - Beijing Film Market (BFM) Film Workshop, held during the Beijing International Film Festival (BIFF)."
Three new contenders enter theaters this week attempting to overthrow Furious 7 from its perch atop the box office: Youthful romance pic The Left Ear (左耳), DreamWorks Animation's unexpected hit Home (疯狂外星人), and Sabotage (破坏者) starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. As Furious barrels towards the number one spot of all-time in China, do any stand a shot?
Another week, another adaptation of a popular novel aimed at the Post-80s/Post-90s crowd. Last weekend saw Ever Since We Love (万物生长) score $11.5 million, a strong opening considering Furious 7 played on more than half of China's screens for 80% of the box office total. This weekend finds The Left Ear hitting theaters to much the same buzz. The "youthful" pic is adapted from a novel of the same name penned by best-selling author Rao Xueman and follows a group of 17 year-olds through first loves, breakups, and spoiler alert: at least one main character's death. First time director Alec Su worked alongside Rao who also wrote the screenplay. Su rose to fame in the 90s as a member of a popular boy band before turning towards acting and still has a devoted following from his pop idol days. EntGroup's EFMT Index puts The Left Ear in the best position of this week's releases in terms of "awareness" and "intent to purchase", and younger viewers could be drawn in by its cast of rising (and good looking) stars.
Home flies into China following a surprisingly strong run in North America as well as overseas. Despite mediocre reviews, the DreamWorks Animation 3D pic has grossed $143 million and $272 million globally as of this writing, postponing the crisis many thought DreamWorks Animation would be in after a string of flops. Imported animated films have doubled their cumulative annual gross from 2013 to 2014 as Chinese parents are increasingly looking for family friendly fare. Accordingly, audiences not interested in the more adult-themed Furious 7 should turn out for Home this weekend. Also of note, the Chinese title for Home roughly translates to "The Wild Alien", and uses the adjective "疯狂" meaning "wild". Perhaps execs are trying to draw in fans of The Croods (疯狂原始人), a big animated hit last year, which used the same adjective in its Chinese title.
The other film entering the market this week is Arnold Schwarzenegger's action flick Sabotage. Schwarzenegger's appearance at the Beijing International Film Festival's opening ceremony on Friday won't help Sabotage's box office prospects, as poor word-of-mouth has preceded the China premiere. The film was universally panned by North American critics and only grossed $10.5 million stateside.
In the end, Furious 7 looks strong to retain the top spot for the third straight weekend. However, both Home and The Left Ear should be able to chip away at its dominant 80% market share from this weekend by drawing in younger audiences who've already seen the action flick and families looking for a change of pace. There's also always a chance that SARFT (State Administration of Radio, Film, and Television) could step in and incentivize theater owners to give more play to domestic pics, in which case The Left Ear and Ever Since We Love would see a bump in attendance.
Furious 7 lapped the competition at China's box office again this weekend, grabbing another $88.35 million for a total of $249.91 million after just 8 days of release. The hugely popular film accounted for 82% of the total box office this weekend, playing on a little more than half of China's screens. Furious 7 has broken about every record at the Chinese box office (midnight screenings, opening day, single day, fastest to 1 billion RMB) and is racing towards #1 of all time. At this pace, there's no denying if it will overtake Transformers: Age of Extinction's $318 million; it's just a matter of when. Even though Home is opening next weekend, the family film won't be stealing away Furious' core demographic, and Avengers: Age of Ultron isn't coming out until May 12th. Therefore, we see Furious breaking the record sometime next weekend and hitting $350 million by the end of its run.
In a distant second place was newcomer Ever Since We Love (万物生长) with $11.52 million including Thursday midnight screenings. That's a solid opening for a film that showed on only 20% of China's screens. The romantic pic based on a popular youth-skewing novel will go up against Left Ear (左耳), another romantic pic based on a popular youth skewing novel next weekend.
In an even further-distant third was Wolf Warriors (战狼), gobbling up $3.47 million for a total of $78.93 million after three weeks of release. Jacky Wu's action/war flick surprised critics and box office pundits premiering with higher than expected numbers and garnering good word of mouth especially in 2nd, 3rd, and 4th tier cities. However, its strong run will be further eroded next weekend with the addition of Schwarzenegger's Sabotage.
Johnny Depp's popularity in China couldn't save 4th place Mortdecai as the dud continues its global bomb. It eked out $2.08 million from about 7% of China's screens.
The rest of the top ten can be found below with data from China's EntGroup.
The first full trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens landed on websites in China a few hours after its premiere in Anaheim as netizens were waking up Friday morning. While there was certainly a fevered response from diehard fans -- the trailer has been viewed 13.2 million times on Tencent Video as of this writing with comments ranging from "I can't wait!" to "R2D2 is so cute!" to "China could never create science fiction like this thanks to our education system stifling creative expression." -- it's apparent that Star Wars wants to pull in younger, more affluent Chinese fans who might not have grown up with the space odyssey in the same way their American comrades did.
China was on the verge of reform and opening up in 1977 when Star Wars: A New Hope opened in the United States. Communist leader Mao Zedong had just passed away and Deng Xiaoping began to implement policies to catch up with the rest of the world after decades of isolation. Western products started to trickle into China, but a trade agreement with the US was years away and very few American films entered the country, especially ones about a rebel group overthrowing an authoritarian government.
Fans eventually got their hands on bootlegs in the 90s and the prequel trilogy was released theatrically in China. However, China's film industry at that time was nothing like the booming one we see now, second in the world only to Hollywood. The multiplexes in malls that span the country had yet to be built (let alone the malls), middle class disposable income had yet to be accumulated, and moviegoing habits of Chinese citizens had yet to be fully formed. Revenge of the Sith grossed $12.1 million in 2005, a decent take for an imported movie back then. (Furious 7 grossed a single day record of $62.8 million last Sunday in comparison)
It's understandable then why Star Wars is trying hard to court new fans. Tencent's video streaming website is the exclusive portal for Star Wars related videos in China and the release of today's trailer came with a personal greeting to Chinese viewers from producer Kathleen Kennedy and director JJ Abrams. "Ni hao, I'm Kathleen Kennedy..." (Chinese audiences love when foreigners attempt to speak their language) ..."Stay tuned with Tencent Video. We hope you enjoy the teaser," added Abrams before they both signed off with "May the force be with you."
The website also live-streamed the Star Wars Celebration in Anaheim yesterday complete with live Mandarin translation. Diehard fans were probably the only ones to tune in as the event took place in the wee hours Thursday night, but as of this writing, nearly one million viewers had seen a recap. Other links take netizens to summaries of previous Star Wars movies and translated trailers. The state owned movie channel CCTV6 also ran a Star Wars marathon in early 2014, showing all 6 episode over the Chinese New Year, a time when most families gather at home around the television.
It's difficult to determine how many new fans Star Wars will recruit before the The Force Awakens opens (Disney hasn't announced a Chinese release date), but it's a safe bet that with Disney's marketing power in China, there will be a slew of promotional tie-ins and activities catered towards Chinese audiences in the coming months. And who knows, following Hollywood's current trend, maybe we'll see a Chinese Jedi master cast in Episode VIII or IX to really bring in the fans.